Every year on November 11, the United States celebrates and honors veterans in recognition of their “patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.” Veterans Day marks the anniversary of the armistice in World War I, which went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
We spoke with four members of the Everytown Veteran Advisory Council about what Veterans Day means to them, why they advocate for gun violence prevention, and what solutions they would like to see implemented to address the gun violence crisis in the United States.
What does Veterans Day mean to you?
Veteran, U.S. Air ForceFor me, Veterans Day is a time to be grateful for both the opportunity to serve and to honor the hard work, dedication, and sacrifices of the many individuals and their families who have graciously shared themselves and their loved ones in service to the nation.
Veteran, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. NavyVeterans Day is one of the only days our country takes time to remember and recognize those who have served in our armed forces, celebrating their patriotism and willingness to sacrifice for the good of the United States. That celebration is important to me because I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in the late 1970s when recognition and appreciation for serving in our military were not prevalent. Having represented our country in Remembrance Day ceremonies while stationed overseas, Veterans Day is also a chance to reflect that there was a time when the world saw a future of no more “wars to end all wars”—a vision that unfortunately didn’t last, but is something to think upon.
Veteran, U.S. Marine CorpsTo me, Veterans Day is simply a day to celebrate and honor those who have chosen to serve our country in one of the Armed Services. While there are many reasons people choose to serve in the United States military, anyone who served honorably should be commended for their service and willingness to sacrifice themselves in defense of what they believe the United States stands for and represents to them.
Veteran, U.S. ArmyOne of the proudest accomplishments of my life—and I’m sure this is true for most veterans—was going through training and becoming a member of the military. The people I met, the experiences I had, and the hardships that both my family and I endured as I went through that process make Veterans Day a special day for me to reflect on and feel part of something bigger than myself.
Is there anything you wish the civilian world would do differently as it recognizes Veterans Day?
Teri Poulton: I sincerely accept any thanks for my service and I truly appreciate it, even if it sometimes feels unwarranted or out of place. What I would find so meaningful is if the kind people who want to be true supporters of “veterans” would remember that veterans come from so many different backgrounds and places. We span every spectrum: politics, religion, economics, race, gender, etc. True support of veterans means standing up for the needs of all veterans—not just those of us who look, pray, or vote alike.
Dan Lynch: I’m very appreciative of the way our veterans are celebrated on Veterans Day. My first experiences as a young enlisted were clouded by the stigma of veterans being associated with Vietnam and resulted in little recognition or, more likely, contempt. Seeing the transition from those days to celebration ceremonies and parades, as well as free coffee, breakfasts, discounts, etc., is a far cry from the treatment veterans received in the 60s and 70s. Many of our older veterans are from that era and can finally bask a bit in the spotlight.
Thomas Hixon: I personally believe Veterans Day is a day for celebration of those who served. It is also a chance for them to look back on their service and how it has shaped who they have become since leaving service. I have seen on numerous occasions that people confuse or conflate Veterans Day with Memorial Day. While we should always honor and remember those who have given their lives for our country, Veterans Day is dedicated to those who no longer wear the uniform of their service. I do not fault anyone who wishes to dedicate their celebration of Veterans Day to a fallen service member, but we should focus on celebrating those servicemembers in a positive way instead of making the day solemn.
I personally find no harm in the term “thank you for your service,” although I do agree with veterans who find the phrase awkward. Instead of the quick platitude, I would much rather be engaged in a meaningful conversation about my service to better educate those who have not served in the military and to dispel any preconceived notions one might have about military service.
Michael Diamond: I often joke that “Veterans Day is a day when veterans can’t get their mail or go to the bank.” In an era where Veterans Day can be trivialized in the form of the local “Veterans Day Mattress Sale,” it’s always good to remember what the day is for. I might add that I don’t have any problem with being thanked for my service on Veterans Day, but I don’t like being thanked on Memorial Day, which is dedicated to those we lost, not those of us who served and returned.
Why do you, as a veteran, advocate for gun violence prevention?
Teri Poulton: I’m a gun owner. There were guns in my childhood household for as long as I can remember. I can’t imagine why anyone would not advocate to prevent gun violence. Guns and gun violence are two wholly different topics to me. I fully support safe, responsible ownership of the former—and I also believe everyone who values human life and harmony should oppose and work to eliminate the latter. But I specifically decided to become active in this space when a dear friend of mine shot and killed himself in his bed a few years ago. Simply being heartbroken, or sharing thoughts and prayers, didn’t feel like enough.
I’ll also add that I have watched two friends from high school, with children in school in different states, have to endure the unthinkable horror of highly publicized school shootings while their kids were in the building. I just can’t send them my thoughts when I can at least also lend my voice and whatever credibility comes with being a veteran and a gun owner when it comes to gun violence prevention.
Dan Lynch: I believe that veterans are unique in that the vast majority have had legitimate, hands-on, detailed training in the use of firearms. They are aware of the need for safe storage, periodic retraining, and proficiency, as well as the consequences of failing to do so. I’ve had the training, understood the regulations, and commanded sailors who flew with firearms and carried them to defend our aircraft in combat zones. I understood the need for those actions as well as the probability that if a weapon was discharged, it was more likely to be an accidental discharge than a deliberate one. Proficiency, safe handling procedures, and control of the firearms would lessen the probability, but it still remained. Most veterans also realize that in the heat of any non-combat exchange of gunfire, the ones holding any firearm are more likely to suffer a casualty than not.
Thomas Hixon: I advocate for gun violence prevention as a veteran for two main reasons. The first being that my father, a Navy Veteran who served for 27 years on both active duty and in the Reserves, was killed in an act of gun violence during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on February 14, 2018. He had been retired from military service for just over 4 years when he sacrificed himself to run into the 1200 building in an attempt to help. It was the embodiment of his military service to have a bias for action and a desire to help others, no matter the circumstances or danger to himself. That kind of pure response to aid others in their time of need or in danger is rare outside of the veteran experience. So I advocate for gun violence prevention as someone who has been personally impacted by it and who truly wishes for no one else to have to experience what we did.
My second reason for advocating for gun violence prevention as a veteran is that veterans are just as unique as those who did not serve. While we have shared experiences, our voice is our own, and no one should speak on behalf of all veterans. I was not going to allow other veterans to express their views under the guise that I would agree with them just because I was a veteran too. When I express my advocacy for how I believe we can reduce gun violence in our country, I do so as myself—a Marine Corps veteran who has been personally impacted by gun violence—and I do not pretend to speak for other Marine Corps veterans or for those who have also been impacted by gun violence.
Michael Diamond: Like all veterans, I have lived in a profession of arms that fully demands and exemplifies the standards of training, safety, and accountability. The U.S. civilian gun culture exemplifies what happens when you respect none of those standards. Given that I have fired more rounds than the vast majority of Americans—including most non-veteran gun owners—I can have a conversation that is rooted in reality. We can do better.
Is there anything you feel that people commonly assume about veterans and their beliefs that doesn’t feel accurate to your own experience?
Dan Lynch: I’ve experienced firsthand the assumptions that because I’m a veteran, I’ve been in ground combat, that I own guns, and that I must be right-wing politically. My experience and those of my colleagues is that most have not participated in ground combat and that some veterans own guns, mostly with self-imposed limitations. I have found that most veterans are actually politically dead-center.
Michael Diamond: Like any large group, veterans are much more diverse than people outside of the group might assume. And just like with any large group, assigning too many absolutes on a large, diverse population is unhelpful. You often see different attitudes among veterans based upon the usual aspects you’d expect—age, income level, education level—and also some aspects that are unique to the military, like which branch of the service you served in, what your role was, where you were deployed, and so forth. Even the most hardened, pro-gun veteran cannot ignore or deny the standards of training, safety, and accountability they were required to meet before ever firing a military weapon.
Thomas Hixon: I personally find the idea that any one political party can identify with the military or veterans, or can claim that they’re the one true party that supports the military and veterans, hilarious. I have seen people enter the military identifying with one political party and leave as a member of another. I’ve had engaging and respectful conversations with people across the political spectrum during my time in the military. These people have widened my perspective on my own held beliefs because their experiences in life were different from mine in ways I could never experience for myself. Servicemembers come from all walks of life, every corner of the United States and its territories, and bring those varied backgrounds with them into their military service. To make claims that all servicemembers believe or think the same way is ridiculous, and no amount of polling will ever confirm that belief. The military is as diverse as the nation, and going through military training does not make us all conform to one way of thinking.
Reducing gun violence will not be accomplished from a monolithic political perspective. If anyone is serious about reducing gun violence, they must interact with and be open to listening to and working with people from across the political spectrum. We have to stop using charged words and policies that we know are deal-breakers for those of differing political beliefs. Our country is made up of so many unique perspectives that we cannot afford to alienate so many—who must also live with the consequences of action and inaction—if we truly want to find solutions to this problem. Collaboration is the only path that will lead to success and lives saved.
How can more moderate voices become involved in advocating for gun violence prevention?
Dan Lynch: Unfortunately, when dealing with issues on firearms usage or ownership, many people immediately go to their corners without much thought on the subject. I recommend a more middle-of-the-road, common-sense approach to properly using, storing, and owning firearms. Hunting firearms requires certain types of guns, calibers, and capacities, many of which are in statute. Carrying a personal defense firearm requires something different. Unfortunately, many gun dealers, brokers, suppliers, and manufacturers have created an entire market of “because we can” products that truly don’t fit any of those common-sense areas.
Teri Poulton: I think it helps me to separate the notion of gun ownership rights from gun violence—and to focus on the humanity of the outcomes. Veterans are a unique group to make this case as we willingly sacrificed some of our constitutional rights in service to others—including limits on our right to bear arms.
I believe most people recognize and are grateful for this sacrifice. I don’t believe our individual rights extend through the individual rights of others. For me, gun ownership is a right, but that right comes with responsibilities. It is not unreasonable to expect personal responsibility and public accountability from gun owners.
Michael Diamond: More moderate voices are more likely to become involved if they feel the organization is a) focused only on gun violence prevention, b) demonstrates that not every gun owner is “the problem” but that, in fact, there is ample room for responsible gun owners, and c) demonstrates that “perfect is the enemy of the good” by advocating for reasonable approaches. Moderate voices can also become more involved by finding like-minded people to serve with, as I have with my fellow veterans.
Thomas Hixon: As the discussions around gun violence prevention, and consequently gun safety or “gun control,” get more and more polarized, it becomes increasingly difficult for moderates to get involved in advocacy. Often, we do not fully agree with either side of the argument and therefore do not feel we have a place to call home in the conversation. Moderates need somewhere they can openly voice their opinions and ideas on how to reduce gun violence and have those ideas respected, taken seriously, and not dismissed solely because they do not fully agree with one side or the other.
You cannot want to have moderates on your team just to say you have them; you have to actually embrace and seriously consider and implement their ideas. As a moderate myself, I believe there are meaningful ways to reduce gun violence that do not also restrict my right to defend myself and my family from an increasingly dangerous world.
What solution(s) would you like to see implemented to address the crisis of gun violence in the U.S.?
Teri Poulton: I wish there was one solution to solve this horrible problem. I think the military can actually provide some policies that are reasonable and many gun violence prevention advocates are taking notes. Red flag laws can prevent those who have already engaged in dangerous or violent behaviors from legally accessing weapons. Losing nearly three women each day to intimate partner violence should be more than enough evidence that abusive people should lose their right to deadly weapons. I also support laws that require responsible gun ownership—it shouldn’t be less difficult to own and operate a gun than it is to own and operate a vehicle. The military requires extensive training, certification, and safe storage. I am increasingly interested in ways that non-government players such as insurance providers can influence changes in behavior as well.
Dan Lynch: In a dream world, a bipartisan committee would review the intent of the Second Amendment and how far from reality it has been allowed to waver. The committee would need to review all aspects of firearm ownership including high-capacity magazines, suppressors, ghost guns, allowable modifications, waiting periods, etc. I’m not pushing gun control, gun regulation, or confiscation—I’m calling instead for a basic, common-sense approach to firearm ownership.
Thomas Hixon: My time in the military taught me to address the root issue of a problem, and in the case of gun violence, I believe that is the culture around guns and the training, safety, and accountability of gun ownership. This is a key function of the military and how it deals with having servicemembers handle and utilize firearms. Before a servicemember is given a service weapon with live ammunition, the weapon safety rules are ingrained into our minds—and breaking any of these safety rules results in swift action being taken against that person. We are trained on the firearms we are expected to use, we have firearm safety ingrained into us, and we are held accountable for our actions involving firearms usage. This is not the standard in everyday American life anymore, and I believe that is part of why we are seeing increases in gun violence. We should be encouraging gun owners to be trained with their firearms, they should know how to be safe with firearms, and ultimately, they should know that they will be held accountable for negative actions or crimes they decide to commit with their firearms.
The other part of the culture around firearms that I believe needs to be addressed is seeing firearms as a source of power and communication. Guns are permanent solutions to temporary problems, and those problems do not always necessitate a gun as the solution to that problem. Those who intentionally commit acts of violence against innocent lives with firearms see the firearm as a source of power for them to be superior to others because they feel like that is the only way to address whatever difficulties they are facing or to right whatever or whoever they have felt wronged by. You cannot legislate culture, but we can change the culture around firearms to where we all understand that the threshold to use a gun for violence is much higher than we think and to understand the overarching impacts that using a gun to take a life entails.
Michael Diamond: Start with the easiest and most obvious: Strengthen existing national background checks to include all gun sales. When I say this is easy, I don’t mean “there is no organized opposition” to the policy. But when you get most Americans—pro-gun or otherwise—away from the political heat and simply ask them about the wisdom of universal background checks, Americans almost universally agree that they make sense. So while the volume of the opposition to this might be strong, it is an exaggerated opposition built upon the flimsiest of foundations.
The passage of a strengthened background check system would impact shootings arising from domestic violence in a way that is less likely for, say, accidental shootings. A single gun safety policy cannot address every form of gun violence. But given the fact that about 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner every month in this country, strengthening the background system is an excellent place to invest energy.
Veterans are critical, credible voices in the gun safety movement.
Join Veteran Advisory Council members to learn about what they do and the critical role that veterans can play in the gun safety movement: Text VETS to 644-33.
About the Veterans
Lt. Col. Teri Poulton is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and a member of the Everytown Veteran Advisory Council.
Capt. Dan Lynch is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy, and a member of the Everytown Veteran Advisory Council.
Capt. Thomas Hixon is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and a member of the Everytown Veteran Advisory Council.
Michael Diamond is a veteran of the U.S. Army and a founding member of the Everytown Veteran Advisory Council.